With condemnations raining down on Israel from around the world over
controversial building projects over the pre-1967 Green Line, some observers are
wondering, why doesn’t Jerusalem just build somewhere else? According to Deputy
Mayor Naomi Tsur, Jerusalem has no choice but to build in these neighborhoods in
order to address current housing shortages. Tsur holds the urban planning and
The capital is currently facing a shortage of
40,000 to 50,000 apartments for all sectors, including haredi and Arab
populations, who suffer from the worst housing shortages. The city’s current
buzzword for new apartment construction is “density.”
The new approach
comes after environmental and urban planning activists threw out architect Moshe
Safdie’s expansion plan.
The plan, proposed under previous mayor Uri
Lupoliansky, consisted of detached suburban houses in the hills west of the
Activists and politicians argued the plan was unsustainable due to
difficulties with public transportation and incredibly destructive to the green
areas around Jerusalem.
Since the Safdie plan’s failure, the city is
working to build up existing neighborhoods by increasing the apartment
The result is that new buildings in existing neighborhoods can
build extra floors, explained Tsur.
For example, in established
neighborhoods such as Rehavia, the city is allowing contractors to build
apartments four or five stories high rather than the typical two or
“We want tall, dense buildings,” said Tsur. “We have to look after
the historic neighborhoods, and not allow them to get too clumsy and ugly, and
we need to be very careful with the older city,” she said.
But even those
increased measures won’t give the city enough housing to address the current
shortage, not to mention the city’s natural growth.
That’s why the city
turned to the “ring neighborhoods” of Pisgat Ze’ev, Ramat Shlomo, Ramot, Gilo,
and East Talpiot, which are newer neighborhoods from the 1970s and more
conducive to high-rise apartments, she said.
Tsur explained that these
areas are suitable for apartments that are 15 or 18 stories high. The city is
also looking to build densely along the light rail. Plans are underway for a new
25-story apartment complex in Kiryat Moshe across from the large hotels and next
to a stop on the light rail.
The municipality also does not differentiate
between neighborhoods on different sides of the Green Line, Tsur
“The Green Line is not relevant in Jerusalem for a very simple
reason,” she said. “We’re not an east/west divide, and the populations are very
Additionally, according to the Clinton parameters, these
mostly Jewish ring neighborhoods are very likely to stay part of Israeli
Jerusalem in a final status negotiation with the Palestinian
At the end of the day, the building policy comes down to
necessity, not politics, she said.
“We can’t have people leave the city
because they have nowhere to live,” she said.
The municipality is
actively working to stem the tide of young workers leaving the city because they
have trouble finding employment with a salary that allows them to live in the
The housing shortage causes rent to skyrocket for existing
Hagit Ofran, the head of Peace Now’s Settlement Watch team,
disagreed with Tsur’s reasoning that the ring neighborhoods are the only places
to build densely. Tsur herself suggested many alternatives as the chairwoman of
the Sustainable Jerusalem coalition which opposed the Safdie plan, said Ofran.
Plans in the city center should be explored before the city moves onto
neighborhoods over the Green Line.
“We need to think of the future of
Jerusalem in the long term. and take into account that we’ll be two states, and
the Palestinian neighborhoods won’t be part of Jerusalem,” she said. While she
acknowledged that most likely these ring neighborhoods would stay a part of
Israel if there is a twostate solution, she argued that the city should not
build there until the final status is known.
“If we succeed through
negotiations, then we can build in Ramat Shlomo,” she said. “Everything we do
when there’s no peace makes us farther and farther from the possibility of
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